Lotus has teamed up with RSR Nurburg
It really doesn't get much better than this. In about 30 minutes I'll be at the helm of a delivery mileage, 2010 spec Exige 240S, rolling out to the entrance of the Nürburgring. The proper, old, 'Green Hell' Nürburgring. Apparently there's a recession on, but regardless, I'm sitting in a plush briefing room in the Eifel mountains with five other nervous blokes and the excitement is palpable. Lotus have entered into a partnership with Nordschliefe specialists RSR Nurburg to deliver a package that couples the best circuit on the planet with Hethel's finest. The result is motoring nirvana - an uncompromising, blade of a car on the track that Formula 1 jockeys come to drive for the challenge.
Say 'hi' to PHers Bob and Andy!
I've been addicted to the place for some time now, to the extent of keeping a cheap track car for the Ring out in Germany, but this year I've simply not been able to justify the time and expense. Still need to scratch that itch though, and so I find myself sat in a briefing between Nick, a hillclimbing Director of Music celebrating his 40th birthday and PHers Andy and Bob, there to fulfil a lifetime's ambition. A father and son from the States sat on the other side of the room have been pretty quiet, until they see the graph showing the rollercoaster changes in elevation over the course of a lap. Florida, they tell me, looking wide eyed, is flat. They also seem a bit alarmed to hear that the Nordscheife is clockwise. Aside from the challenge of 'turning right' I'm interested in the fact that - for the first time - I'll be doing full laps. We are cheerfully told that we'll enter the circuit by merging onto the main straight where the quick stuff will be "touching 200mph"... I start to faintly worry about touching cloth.
Exposed aluminium has the right feel
I relax a bit when we get outside. The revisions for the 2010 car have really tightened up the looks of the pocket supercar. The line of six in metallic grey and white outside RSR look amazing, but the styling revisions aren’t just cosmetic. The 240S’s spoiler, diffuser, front dam and flat floor do more than kill lift, they generate real downforce - over 42 kilograms of it at 100mph. These particular cars have the Performance Pack fitted, so they also benefit from a host of revisions; the most obvious of which is the full length roof scoop, force feeding cold air into the supercharger and giving the car an aggressive, forward leaning stance. I won’t be using the launch control, but with it, Lotus claim a 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds. I’m pretty sure I won’t be turning the traction control off either.
All Exige work is conducted with an instructor alongside, and today the cars start in pairs, each taking it in turns to lead. Where a full lap involves 13 miles of intense concentration, swapping seats with the instructor to lead the car behind allows you to relax and to let the lessons and the advice sink in. I’m always jealous of those experiencing the ‘Ring for the first time, it’s such sensory overload that I was left pretty speechless after my first lap. Pulling into the carpark after the first couple of laps, I can see Nick’s broad grin through his full face helmet. ‘What was that like?’ He scrambles out of the Lotus, waves his arms about, then shrugs and shakes his head. ‘Brilliant. Just… brilliant.’
There's a lot of exposed, machined aluminium on display as you fold yourself into the driver's seat that adds to the sense of occasion. The small irritation of a starter button on a car with a normal key is soon overcome, and while the power delivery from the Toyota powerplant is impressively linear, it's never going to win any prizes for aural quality. The 240 bhp is a good headline figure, but these Performance Pack cars are remapped for extra torque. This additional grunt means I'm carrying 4th gear in places I wouldn't expect - low mass, low inertia playing to the strengths of the mid-range. I only find out that the Exige has shift lights when shown by the instructor - I'm stunned to find out that I've been short-shifting all morning. How embarrassing - I've clearly been driving like a fanny. After lunch, I determinedly stride back to the Exige, intent on really taking the car by the scruff of the neck, like an accident just looking for a corner to happen at.
The briefing room - Playstation anyone?
Fortunately for me, chucking the Lotus into corners reveals that some initial reassuring front understeer pushes the front of the car gently wide, and modulating the throttle tucks the nose in. Not a big sudden lift - that feels like it would be altogether more exciting, and expensive. Fundamentally, in the dry, on these tyres, the Exige is only ever going to go exactly where you point it, and the faster we go the more this is evident. Apex speeds in this car, on a balanced throttle, are immense, and the traction control is so well judged that its inputs are more flattering than frustrating. Andy and Bob, circulating in matching grey 240Ss, are also full of praise for the car, and in awe of the surroundings.
Not much traffic on a private track day
We're very lucky in having the place to ourselves. More than one lap is conducted with no traffic whatsoever, and freed from the constraints of 'Tourist' driving, big boys rules apply where overtaking is by consent and on either side. This really makes a difference to how progressive you can be, both in overtaking and in getting out of the way of others. I'm treated to a masterclass in 'grunt' by a white R8 that rockets past going up the hill at warp 9, but I'm finding that a low volume private trackday means I can focus more on the circuit. A brand new rented car also banishes mechanical worries, and the package includes insurance, fuel, lunch. I've saved a fortune.
Well, I would have done, were it not for the announcement that these cars will now be available to drive (via the most entertaining roads in the Eifel) to Spa in Belgium to complete a similar package. I've never been, so there was something of a commotion when I got home and confessed to booking myself on a 'Spa day'. Value for money has been significantly decreased if you include the handbag I've had to buy to compensate for the trauma!